In fact it was blowing South-Westerly last Saturday, June 26, when the Rye Harbour Sailing Club cruiser fleet assembled for race 4 in the Bramley Cup series.
Actually, to call it a fleet is something of an overstatement. Under grey skies, threatening rain and a deteriorating forecast only three boats arrived at the start line in Rye Bay, just at the mouth of the River Rother: Limbo Girl, who was acting as OOD (Officer of the Day) and, anchored at the start/finish line, did not race, Mallard, a 32ft Westerly Fulmar and Helena Ann the veteran wooden-built 38ft McGruer design. So the scene was set for a match race between the two boats – Helena Ann longer and theoretically faster than the smaller Mallard but carrying a bigger handicap.
Mallard was in the better position at the start and took an immediate lead as the boats headed off westward, close-hauled into the wind, towards Winchelsea Beach. However, with the wind increasing from an initial 18 knots to 24 knots and gusting up to 30 knots, both boats were on the limit of their capability, not helped by the short but steep waves typical of Rye Bay with an on-shore wind.
With the leeward decks of both boats permanently under water, it became clear that Mallard was finding the conditions more difficult than the heavier Helena Ann and, putting in an extra tack in order to make the first mark off Winchelsea Beach, allowed the bigger boat to make up some ground.
The next leg headed to the Fairway Buoy (roughly in the middle of Rye Bay, South of the harbour entrance). On a broad reach, with the wind increasingly hitting 30 knots and travelling across, rather than into, the oncoming seas, control of either boat became increasingly hard work and once again Mallard was forced wide of the mark, allowing Helena Ann to gybe round inside her before heading off to the RHSC racing buoy, off Camber.
Rounding the RHSC buoy, the course now headed back into the wind to pass through the start/finish line ‘gate’ that marked the end of the first lap and the start of a second, shorter one. Helena Ann passed through first, now well ahead of Mallard who, when she reached the line decided, probably very wisely, that enough was enough and retired. (Racing should be enjoyable and there is no point in risking damage either to the crew – good crews are hard to come by – or very expensive equipment).
Helena Ann was therefore left to complete the final short lap on her own, without incident and, as if a reward for her perseverance, the wind decreased to below 20 knots making life just a little easier for the last part of the race, the whole of which was completed in a corrected time (i.e. allowing for handicap) of just over 1 hour 13 minutes. Congratulations must go to both crews for giving it a go in the prevailing conditions and respect, in particular, to little Limbo Girl in which the OOD and his crew must have had a very uncomfortable hour and a half at anchor in the choppy sea, while the race was on.
Next weekend is a much longer race from Rye to Eastbourne. Will Helena Ann triumph again? Will Mallard exact her revenge? Or will another boat in the fleet eclipse them both? A combination of skill, handicap and weather, with a bit of Lady Luck thrown into the mix, will decide.
Photo: John Minter